Jack Nicholson

Go down

Jack Nicholson

Post  BoG on Sat May 23, 2015 2:17 am

I'd been meaning to write about Jack for a long time. He's a favorite of many - with good reason - and I'd place him as my 4th or 5th favorite actor. But, I couldn't find a way to explain why he's such a well liked and powerful actor until I watched Wolf (1994) again. It's a rather average horror film which is more about a romance and the changes that a middle-aged white collar editor at a publishing house goes through. I realized finally that I like to watch this film repeatedly because Jack is in the central role. He's almost hypnotic in this role, as he is in many of his roles, mesmerizing the audience to follow along on his strange journey. The other actors in this film (Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Chris Plummer) are also great, but Jack's is the central role. When you think about it, his role is rather outrageous and silly - urinating on Spader's shoes, for example, and running  through the woods after a deer - but he makes every scene work, no matter how crazed. And the dramatics are all the more powerful because Jack brings this strange pathos to the role - when he tells his unfaithful wife to go away, to go to hell (not in so many words), it's all the more intense and real because Jack seems genuinely angry and upset, reacting to a great betrayal, not just acting it out, and he doesn't yell these lines; it's more this simmering anger, slowly boiling up from inside him. It's one of many great, memorable scenes.

Jack has had this paradoxical reputation in regards to his acting for most of his career - at once accused of being hammy and over-the-top and also bringing his own unique reality to all his roles, I think this combination has actually helped and strengthened his career, making him very unique among actors. There simply just wasn't anyone else remotely like him - he rejected 'The Method' acting style, for example, preferring his own unique approach. He toiled in low budget / exploitation films in the sixties. His debut was in Cry Baby Killer (58), the Roger Corman quickie made for $7000 in 11 days, and he was in a small but memorable role as a dentist's patient in The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), already showing his talent for laid back humor. It was Roger Corman who provided the work for Jack in the early days - The Wild Ride was another early one, when he was earning $300 a week, and then a western, The Broken Land (1962). Corman upped his game slightly for classy if still low budget horror based on Poe - The Raven (1963) and The Terror, filmed on the same sets, starring horror stars like Karloff and Vincent Price; Nicholson was plugged in as the young hero and was rather dull.

He switched to collaborating with new director Monte Hellman for the war films Back Door to Hell and Flight to Fury (both 1964), which also marked his involvement as screenwriter, and he was even better writing and acting in a couple of offbeat existential westerns for Hellman - Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting (1966). But, these tampered with the traditional themes of westerns at that time and were a hard sell. In between, he had a small role in Ensign Pulver (1964), but it flopped, depressing him. Jack had a receding hairline and his features were already getting a lived in look at age 30, and he lacked the natural good looks of contemporaries who quickly surpassed him to stardom, guys like Redford, Warren Beatty and even Dustin Hoffman, who beat out Jack for the coveted role in The Graduate.  It was beginning to look like Jack was destined for work behind the camera - writing - such as for The Trip (starring Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper), or continuing in supporting roles in small films - the latest fad were biker films and the counter-culture of drugs, like The Rebel Rousers,  Hells Angels on Wheels (67) and Psych-Out; Jack wasn't even the lead in these, just part of an ensemble of other character actors like Bruce Dern. Jack even went the guest role route on TV, on The Andy Griffith Show.

Then came Easy Rider (1969), another spin on the counter culture wave of rebelling against the establishment, including rampant drug use. Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper were the stars, as two bikers on a trip across America to sell drugs, with Hopper directing; Rip Torn was the 3rd lead, a smaller role of a fallen lawyer, but he departed over money issues. Jack was there in a behind-the-camera capacity, helping to run things smoothly. Jack got the role, replacing Torn, and the rest is history. His role was brief - introduced late in the film and exiting early - but the quirky charm he brought to the role made him a star instantly. The film was huge at the box office, eventually grossing $45 million worldwide on a budget of less than half-a-million, and Jack was nominated for an Oscar. His plans to become a writer & director swiftly changed - he was now a movie star. This led to Five Easy Pieces (1970), Jack's first big starring role, as a promising pianist who instead chooses to be a drifter. It was the first of many complex portrayals from Jack, in this case someone very talented & gifted, yet dissatisfied with life and unable or unwilling to effect positive changes, perhaps self-destructive; he was again Oscar-nominated.

Jack followed up with starring roles in Carnal Knowledge (71), The King of Marvin Gardens (72) and The Last Detail (73), all groundbreaking work, whether in the area of sexual escapades or rough language, but Jack was very different in each of these roles; each was a separate, distinct character - his rough sailor was quite different from the sexual philanderer - yet each was recognizably Jack's own persona; he always brought some of himself to a role; there was that paradox. He was also very different as a private detective in L.A. in the now-classic noir Chinatown (74), playing the role with  a band-aid over his nose for half the picture. I'm not a big fan of the film myself, but it relied on Jack to carry the viewer along on his latest journey. The rest of the seventies were a mixed bag: he teamed with Warren Beatty for the so-so comedy The Fortune (75), which failed at the box office, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was huge and finally won Jack the Oscar. He was riveting as a small-time criminal who gets transferred to a mental institution; his final scenes remain as the most haunting and depressing ever, because we lose him.

He teamed with none other than Marlon Brando for The Missouri Breaks (76), a dreary western. It seemed that when Jack teamed with another big star, the results were mediocre. It suggested that he was better off being the sole star of his films. So, he directed himself in the comedy-western Goin' South (78), an odd one; he played a thief, heavily bearded, saved from hanging by his new wife. Still, he had a knack for funny stuff. He also took special supporting roles in Tommy (75) and The Last Tycoon (76), something he would continue to do even as he remained a big star. In 1980, he starred in The Shining, the horror film adapted from Stephen King's novel. This was a pivotal time in Jack's career - he had been a big star for a decade and everyone knew who he was; he was, in essence, already a living legend. So, there were expectations about what kind of manic touch he would bring to the role of a writer, father & husband who steadily goes insane in a desolate hotel. In most ways, he didn't disappoint: this was crazy Jack, and some of his lines and scenes have become indelible in film history, classics. In a way, the hints of craziness he brought to most of his previous roles, including that famous grin, now came to full flourish in a no-holds-barred performance, confirming what everyone suspected - that nobody does crazy like Jack.

He continued in controversial and even unlikable parts: a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (81), in which his drifter was close to a degenerate. He was a border patrol agent in The Border (82-the border on Mexico), trying to be decent. He actually had more success with his special supporting roles: as a famous writer in Warren Beatty's Reds (81) and as an overweight neighbor and ex-astronaut in Terms of Endearment (83-another Oscar); it showed that Nicholson was also a character actor and a fine one. Check him out in his small role in Broadcast News (88), as a famous news anchor; though surrounded by great acting, he still stood out in a couple of short scenes, sort of showing off his star wattage and his effective little subtleties at the same time, such as a raised eyebrow. He got older, bigger and the roles seemed to get bigger - he was the devil himself in The Witches of Eastwick (87) and it now looked like such roles were tailor-made for him, the larger-than-life entertaining personality. This prepared us all for his also-classic Joker role in Batman (89).

By that point, such a flamboyantly colorful and famous villain seemed inevitable for Jack's career path; everyone seemed to agree that no one else could play the role. I think we all have to admit, even if the film was interesting and unusual, it was mostly Jack's scenes we waited for and which were the most satisfying; in fact, Michael Keaton was almost amateurish next to Jack, in my opinion, and quite boring. Batman was the biggest film of the year and also earned Jack a ton of money (he had a percentage of the gross profit). I even recall a rumor back then that he would retire, since he was now very rich and this was a crowning achievement, so there was nothing left for him to do. But, he still had a hankering to direct (this goes way back to a 1971 film he directed, Drive, He Said); he chose a sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes (90) and also starred, reprising his (now older) detective role; the reception was tepid.

Half of Jack's roles in the nineties were nothing to get excited about, maybe being  an anti-climax to his '89 Joker role, such as Man Trouble (92), a lame comedy, and the biopic Hoffa; these two even got him Razzie nominations. But, he still excelled in special supporting roles: Tom Cruise starred in A Few Good Men, a military trial drama that boiled down to a great confrontation in the last 15 minutes. Jack had only a couple of small scenes before this spellbinding climax and I didn't think he would do well as a military colonel, a nasty bad-ass. But, I guess I forgot about The Last Detail when I first saw this. Jack roared at Cruise like no one else could and his big scene certainly makes the whole film a gratifying thing to sit through, as if Jack was daring us all to find fault with him. After Wolf, Jack took a couple of disposable roles - The Crossing Guard (95), Blood & Wine (96) - returned briefly in the sequel to Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star, and was disappointing in dual roles in Mars Attacks, the silly sci-fi comedy about a Martian invasion. He came back strong in As Good as it Gets (97), as a misanthropic writer involved with the much younger Helen Hunt; it won him another Oscar.

Jack nearly repeated this role (As Good as it Gets) in Something's Got to Give (2003), this time with Diane Keaton, and that was his next big success; in between, the films were failures - The Pledge (2001) - or disappointments (About Schmidt), and Jack was finally slowing down, playing less and playing noticeably older men, those retiring or close to the twilight of their lives. However, it was said by some that at the point he played the evil mob boss in Scorsese's The Departed (2006), Jack was still relevant to the younger generation of moviegoers, despite pushing 70.  This was rare for a film star, perhaps only achieved also by Eastwood. Unlike Eastwood, though, Jack Nicholson has more Oscar nominations than any other male actor. There might be reasons for that. Wink
Galaxy Overlord
Galaxy Overlord  Galactus

Posts : 3265
Join date : 2010-02-28
Location : Earth-1


Back to top Go down

Back to top

- Similar topics

Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum